More interesting is what the slow melting of Trump’s glacial insistence that he didn’t lose is revealing elsewhere. Pundits who largely hew to the Trump line are left to figure out the path forward without guidance from the president. Some remain insistent that he’ll somehow triumph. Others — including, surprisingly, Fox News’s Laura Ingraham — are resigned to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
And then there’s Tucker Carlson. The Fox News host has long stood out as being sycophancy-adjacent rather than entirely immersed in the MAGAverse. He understands that Trump shares many of his core philosophies, like preserving institutional power for White Americans, and has effectively managed to align his desired outcomes with Trump’s political strength.
Given that, it’s not surprising to see that Carlson’s response to Trump’s loss is less a defense of Trump than an attempt to indict the system that disadvantages their mutual allies and goals.
During his opening segment Monday night, Carlson outlined a three-part response to Biden’s win. Despite it not really serving as a defense of Trump, the president shared the segment on social media, amplifying what Carlson proposes happen as the transition gets underway.
After bashing electronic voting (“electronic voting is not as secure as traditional hand counting, period,” he said), Carlson made his first proposal: a lengthy probe of the election.
“Going forward, we need to find out exactly what happened in this month's presidential election,” he said. “We need to find out, no matter how long it takes the investigation to unfold or how much it costs.”
One reference here, fairly obviously, is to the investigation that plagued Trump himself during his first several years in office. To this day, Trump remains frustrated that his 2016 election was overshadowed by questions about Russia's efforts to interfere in the results and various investigations into people associated with his campaign. As he's pushed to hold off Biden's win, many of his allies have argued that muddying the waters after Election Day is fair play given the investigations Trump himself had to endure.
There are important differences, of course. One is that the investigations into Russian interference began well before the 2016 election concluded and focused on several individuals with demonstrated ties to Russia. Had Trump simply embraced the probe of interference broadly as a way to protect the vote, it wouldn’t have become the pall that it did. But, again, Trump was eager to present himself as a winner, and the idea that Russia might have influenced the outcome was therefore anathema.
The other distinction between the 2016 election probe and the one Carlson suggests is that in that case there was good reason to suspect malfeasance on the part of people associated with Trump’s campaign. One adviser traveled to Moscow in July 2016. Another was told that Russia had obtained emails that were apparently the ones eventually leaked by WikiLeaks. Another — Trump’s campaign chairman — had worked directly for pro-Russian interests and, it turns out, shared campaign data with an individual linked to Russian intelligence.
By contrast, there isn’t any evidence that anything untoward happened with electronic voting in 2020. There are plenty of allegations, certainly, though even Carlson had to admit last week that Trump’s campaign couldn’t present evidence to support those allegations. As with most elections, there were certainly errors and flaws that deserve to be probed to prevent them from happening again in the future. Perhaps those investigations will turn something up. But what Carlson proposes is obviously a fishing expedition, something that may bear political fruit but should be understood in that context.
Anyway, Carlson already knows what it will find.
“Once we get answers from that investigation,” he continued, “we ought to revert immediately to the traditional system of voting, the one that served our democracy for hundreds of years. What we're doing now is not working. That's an understatement.”
His evidence to that effect was the lengthy delay in vote-counting in New York, which is, in fact, bizarre and unnecessary. It is also a function of expanded mail-in voting, which is what Carlson is objecting to. He is arguing that there is something necessarily suspect and risky about that expansion, as Trump had done for months before the election itself.
There isn't, of course. Many states managed to expand mail-in voting without equivalent delays or any demonstrated danger of fraud. Some states, like Pennsylvania, were prevented from implementing systems to count votes more rapidly, something that could be ameliorated if legislators desired. Broadly, though, there's no evidence at all that mail ballots led to rampant fraud — or even anything more than isolated incidents in which fraud occurred.
The objection to mail-in balloting isn’t really about fraud or efficiency. It’s about making it easier to vote. Republicans like Carlson have long pushed back against efforts to expand access to voting, recognizing that doing so posed a risk of increasing Democratic turnout. It’s not necessarily the case that Biden won this year because it was easier for more people to vote, but far more people did vote and Biden did win.
Notice, too, how Carlson's objections conflict. He wants “traditional hand-counting,” which is slower than electronic voting, even as he complains that mail-in voting is too slow. He insists that the “traditional system” has been used for hundreds of years, neglecting the point that mail-in votes have long been part of that system.
Carlson then gets to the third part of his post-election playbook.
“We shouldn't let our focus on voting machines distract us from all that happened earlier this month. The 2020 presidential election was not fair. No honest person would claim that it was fair,” Carlson insisted. “On many levels the system was rigged against one candidate and in favor of another, and it was rigged in ways that were not hidden from view. We all saw it happen.”
How? Well, for one thing, Carlson says that the media allowed Biden to “refuse to explain what they would do if they were elected.”
This, as The Post’s Dave Weigel has pointed out, is ridiculous. Perhaps there wasn’t coverage of Biden’s agenda on Fox News, but it’s impossible to argue that he didn’t offer detailed proposals of what his presidency would entail. Those proposals often struggled to be heard over the volume of Trump’s chatter, but they existed.
The candidate who explicitly had no post-election proposals was Trump. There was no section on his website outlining any plans, just a delineation of his self-described accomplishments. The Republican Party broadly acknowledged that there was no use in developing a platform, reverting to a broad “whatever Trump wants” explanation.
Carlson's other examples of things being rigged against Trump were similarly shaky. He argued that Trump supporters were prevented from gathering while left-wing protesters were allowed to do so. (This might come as a surprise to the thousands of attendees at Trump's late-election rallies.) He lamented the expansion of mail-in voting, implying that Democrats benefited because it was “less secure” (wink wink wink). He objected to legal probes of the National Rifle Association, arguing that this sidelined an important pro-Republican group while ignoring the reasons those probes existed.
He spent the most time claiming that technology companies were arrayed against Trump, which is probably a lot of the reason Trump shared the segment. Carlson claimed that companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter “controlled how people voted” through their censorship.
This has been a common refrain for months now, as efforts to work the referees (which have been quite successful) have evolved into conspiracy theories about censorship. Many of those allegations derive from frustration about the companies’ efforts to stamp out toxic behavior. The available evidence nonetheless suggests that Facebook in particular provides a massive platform for pro-Trump voices. There is no robust evidence that voter preferences are influenced by Google searches, for example, or that those searches are inherently biased toward the political left.
Regardless, all of this is what Carlson proposes to happen now that Trump has lost. Continue to pressure social media and search companies toward giving conservatives more latitude. Insist that the system is rigged in favor of the left. Reform voting systems to restrict access. And investigate, investigate, investigate on the off chance that something serious turns up.
It won’t make Trump president in January, but all of this may make it easier to boot Biden in 2024 — as Carlson well knows.